"Of course I don't mean all this," she said, suddenly speaking in a matter-of-fact tone.
"But I do, and I shall hold you to it. You know I have your blossom wreath; I've saved it as a souvenir of last night."
"That forlorn bit of drowned finery! Oh, Little Billee, I thought you were poetical! No poet could keep such a tawdry old souvenir as that!"
"It isn't tawdry. I dried it carefully, and picked the little petals all out straight, and it's really lovely."
"Then if it's in such good shape, I wish you'd give it back to me to wear. I was fond of that wreath."
"No, it's mine now. I claim right of salvage. But I'll give you another in place of it,—if I may."
Patty didn't answer this, for Daisy, tired of being neglected, leaned her head over between the two, and commenced chattering.
The two girls were well wrapped up in coats and veils Mona had brought them, but they were both glad when they came in sight of "Red Chimneys."
Patty went gaily off to her own rooms, saying she was going to have a bath and a breakfast, and then she was going to sleep for twenty-four hours.
"I'm not," announced Daisy. "I'm going to make a straight dive for the breakfast room. Come with me, Bill, and see that I get enough to eat."
Roger, Mona, and the Kenerleys were going for an ocean dip, and Laurence Cromer, who was a late riser, had not yet put in an appearance. Aunt Adelaide was with Patty, hearing all about the adventure, so Bill was obliged to accept Daisy's rather peremptory invitation.
"What's the matter with you, Bill?" asked the girl, as she threw off her motor coat and sat at the table in her low-necked party gown.
"Nothing. I say, Daisy, why don't you go and get into some togs more suitable for 9 A.M.?"
"Because I'm hungry. Yes, James, omelet, and some of the fried chicken. Bill, don't you like me any more?"
"Yes, of course I do. But you ought to act more,—more polite, you know."
"Oh, fiddlesticks! You mean more finicky,—like that paragon, Patty. You think she's perfect, because she never raises her voice above a certain pitch, and she expects all you men to lie down and let her walk over you."
"She MAY walk over me, if she likes; and I want you to stop speaking of her in that slighting way, Daisy."
"Oh, you do, do you? And, pray, what right have you to say HOW I shall speak of her?"
"The right that any man has, to take the part of one who is absent."
"You'd like to have more rights than that, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe I would, but I'm not confiding in you."
"You don't have to. Yours is an open secret. Everybody can see you're perfectly gone on that little pink and white thing!"
"That will do, Daisy; don't say another word of that sort!" and Bill's voice was so stern and tense that Daisy stopped, a little frightened at his demeanour.
What he might have said further, she never knew, for just then Guy Martin and Lora Sayre came strolling into the room.
"Hello, people!" said Guy. "Where's everybody that belongs to this chateau? We've come through myriads of empty rooms, but at last we find the gems of the collection."
"Why, Miss Dow," exclaimed Lora, looking at Daisy's gown, "is this a DINNER party?"
Daisy laughed, and explained, rather pleased than otherwise to be the sole narrator of the interesting tale. Needless to say, she and Bill Farnsworth figured as the principal actors in her dramatic version of the motor adventure, and, naturally, Bill could not contradict her.
"I congratulate you, Miss Dow," said Guy, "on looking so fit after such a trying ordeal. Patty is all right, isn't she?"
"Oh, yes; she's all right, but you know, she can't stand much fatigue. And the whole performance unnerved her, and gave her a chance to insist on having a beauty sleep."
"Which she doesn't need for THAT purpose," laughed Lora, good- naturedly. "But I fear we are keeping you, Miss Dow. Don't you want to get into a morning frock? Wouldn't you feel more comfortable?"
"No, it doesn't matter," and Daisy's manner gave the effect of sacrificing her comfort to the guests, though really she was of no mind to run away and lose this call.
"We came to talk about the Pageant," began Guy. "We want to get the various parts settled."
"Well, of course we can't answer for the others," said Daisy, "but let's discuss it,—it's such fun, and among us, we may think up some good ideas. I've had lots of experience with this sort of thing out West."
"Oh, have you?" said Guy, eagerly. "Then DO help me out. I have to get up such a lot of characters,—all representative of the sea, you know. I want Mr. Farnsworth here for Father Neptune, that's certain."
"I'm quite willing," said Bill, good-naturedly. "Do I wear a bathing suit?"
"No, indeed," replied Lora. "You wear a gorgeous robe, all dark green muslin, in billowy waves, and cotton wool on it for sea foam. Then you'll have a stunning crown and a trident and a lot of paraphernalia."
"Lovely," said Bill. "I do think I'll look just sweet! Who is with me in this misery?"
"Well, the Spirit of the Sea is the next most important figure on this float. I wanted to be it, but mother thinks I'm not strong enough to stand it. She refuses to let me try. So I suppose it will be Patty."
"Patty Fairfield!" exclaimed Daisy. "She's not strong enough, either. Suppose I take that part. I'm used to posing, and I can stand in one position without getting tired. I'll do it, if you want me to."
"But we've really asked Patty," demurred Guy, "and she hasn't decided yet."
"Well, leave it to me," said Daisy. "I'll ask her, and if she wants the part, all right, and if not, I'll take it."
This seemed satisfactory, and the matter was dropped while they discussed other details of the float.
Laurence Cromer came down while they were talking, and they all adjourned to the veranda, while the artist gave them the benefit of his advice as to decorations and scenic effects.
Then the bathers came back from the beach, and all went to work heartily to make and carry out plans for the Pageant.
Patty had luncheon sent to her room, for she was more affected by the exposure to the storm and the nerve exhaustion of the adventure than the others were. However, as Mona and Mrs. Kenerley and Baby May spent much of the time with her, she did not have a dull day. In the afternoon Daisy came in. Patty, in a blue silk negligee, sat at her desk writing letters.
"How sweet you look!" said Daisy, sitting beside her. "When are you coming downstairs? The boys are moping all over the place. I believe you're staying up here for coquetry."
The tone was light, but Patty could see that Daisy's words were at least partly in earnest. But they were untrue, and Patty said, "Oh, I'm going down for tea. I'm just writing to my father. Then I'll dress and go downstairs. I'm all right, you know."
"Yes, you look so," said Daisy, glancing at the bright eyes and roseleaf complexion. "You don't look a bit tired."
"I'm not now; but I was when I reached home this morning. Weren't you?"
"Not very. I'm stronger than you are. Guy Martin and Lora Sayre were here to talk about the Pageant."
"Were they? Is Lora going to be Spirit of the Sea?"
"No; her mother won't let her. They asked me to take the part, but I don't want to."
"Why not?" said Patty, looking at her curiously.
"Oh, I think they'd better have a Spring Beach girl. You, for instance."
"They asked me before, but if you'll do it, I'll take something else. Who's going to be Neptune?"
"Bill. That's another reason why you'd better be the Sea Spirit."
"Nonsense!" and Patty was angry at herself to feel the blush that rose to her cheek. But Daisy made no comment, and in a moment she said suddenly:
"Patty, write a note for me, will you? I've run a sliver into my forefinger and I can't hold a pen."
"A sliver? Oh, Daisy, does it hurt?"
"No, not much now. I got it out. But the tip of my finger is painful if I write. You've your pen in your hand, so just scribble a line for me. I can sign it."
"Of course I will. Dictate, please!"
Patty took a fresh sheet of paper, and tried to look like a professional amanuensis.
"I really would rather not be the Spirit of the Sea," dictated Daisy, and Patty wrote obediently. "Please try to get some one else for the part. But may I ask you as a personal favour not to speak of the matter to me at any time."
"Thank you," said Daisy, taking the paper from Patty and folding it. "I can sign it, even if I have to use my left hand. I'm going to give it to Mr. Martin for, somehow, I don't want to talk about the matter to him."
"I don't see why," said Patty, a little puzzled.
"Never mind, girlie. You know sometimes there are little foolish reasons we don't like to tell of. Don't say anything about all this to anybody, will you?"
"No, certainly not," said Patty, wonderingly.
"Don't tell any one I asked you to write the note."
"You see, I hate to acknowledge a hurt finger. It sounds so silly."
The whole affair seemed silly to Patty, for she could see no reason why Daisy shouldn't tell Guy that she didn't want to be Spirit of the Sea. But it was none of her affair, and as Daisy went away she put the whole matter out of her mind. After making a leisurely toilette, she went downstairs and found a group of young people having tea on the veranda. Her appearance was hailed with shouts of joy. Seats were offered her in every choice position, but the pleading look in Farnsworth's big blue eyes persuaded her to sit beside him in a broad, red-cushioned swing.
"You're all right, little girl, aren't you?" he said, anxiously, and Patty laughed gaily up at him as she answered, "Yes, indeed! and all ready for another adventure, if YOU'LL take care of me!"
"You apple blossom!" whispered Bill. "I won't hold you to your word, but I'd like to. Do you know, I've promised to be Father Neptune in this dinky parade they're getting up. Won't I be the gay old Sea Dog! I hope you'll be the Spirit of the Sea."
"That isn't decided; don't ask me about it yet," said Patty, who had no mind to commit herself until Guy should ask her definitely to take the part. Though since Lora couldn't take it, and Daisy wouldn't, she felt pretty sure it would fall to her.
A number of the Spring Beach boys and girls had drifted in, as they often did at tea time, and the talk of the many small groups was all of the coming festivity. Beside the Sea Float, there were the various rivers to be represented. The Nile would be characterised by Egyptian costumes and effects. The Hudson would be an attempt at a representation of "The Half Moon." The Tiber was to show gorgeous Roman citizens; the Thames proudly contemplated a houseboat, and the Seine, French scenery. Also, there would be floats representing Venice, Holland, the Panama Canal, Niagara Falls, the Open Polar Sea, and many others showing some phase or manifestation of water's great kingdom.
Daisy had inveigled Guy Martin into a tete-a-tete corner with her, but after a polite quarter of an hour, he declared he must move around and confer with a few people concerning their parts in the carnival.
"How about Patty's being Spirit of the Sea?" he asked.
"Oh," Daisy said, "you'd better not say anything to her about that. I asked her, and she gave me this note to give you. It isn't signed, nor addressed, but you see it's her handwriting. She wrote it hastily, but she said she didn't want to talk about the matter."
Guy looked a little surprised, but took the note and read it. "H'm," he said, "rather NOT be Spirit of the Sea. Get some one else. And—as a personal favour, don't speak of the matter to her! Well, Pretty Patty must have a miff of some sort. Most unlike her! However, her word is law. I'll never mention the subject to her, since she asks me not to. But our time is getting short, and most of the girls have their parts. Miss Dow, won't you be Spirit of the Sea?"
"Why, yes, if you want me to," said Daisy, looking modest and demure. "I can make the costume easily, because I know just how. It requires fishnet draperies over green chiffon, and lots of seaweed decorations and that sort of thing."
"Yes; you have just the right idea. Then I'll put you down for that. You and Mr. Farnsworth will make a fine pair. I wonder what Patty WOULD like to be."
"I'll ask her," volunteered Daisy. "I know you're awfully busy, Mr. Martin, and I want to help you all I can. So leave that matter to me."
"Very well, I will," said Guy, who really had a multitude of cares and affairs; "but be sure to make her take some good part. It wouldn't be a Pageant at all with Patty Fairfield left out! If I didn't have to skip away this very minute to keep an engagement with a scene painter, I'd ask her what's the matter, anyhow!"
"Oh, Mr. Martin, you forget she asked you, as a personal favour, not to speak to her about it."
"By Jove! So she did! Wonder what's come over the girlie! If anybody has offended her, I'll kill him! Well, I must fly, Miss Dow; attend the rehearsals, won't you? See you tomorrow."
Guy made hasty adieux to Mona, and went off on his errands.
Daisy, in high spirits at the success of her ruse, went straight over to Patty.
"Patty, dear," she said, sweetly, "I couldn't withstand Mr. Martin's persuasions, and I've promised him I'll be the Spirit of the Sea. You know I told you I didn't want to, but he overruled my objections and I consented."
"All right, Daisy," said Patty, without a trace of regret on her sweet face. She did feel regret keenly, for Guy had asked her long ago, and she had only hesitated out of generosity toward Lora, who also wanted it. But it was not her nature to resent such things, and she concluded that Guy thought Daisy better adapted for the part than herself.
"What part will you take?" Daisy went on. "Mr. Martin told me to ask you and arrange for you."
Daisy's manner showed such undue importance and ostentatious authority that Jack Pennington spoke up.
"Are you assistant chairman, Miss Dow?"
"Mr. Martin didn't call it that," said Daisy, smiling pleasantly; "he only left it to me to see that Miss Fairfield had a good place in the Pageant."
"You bet Miss Fairfield will have a good place!" exclaimed Jack. "Don't you bother about it, Miss Dow. Let me relieve you of that duty. I'LL see to Miss Fairfield's place."
"But Mr. Martin left it in my care," persisted Daisy, getting a little frightened lest her deceit about the note should be discovered.
"Leave Mr. Martin to me," said Jack, a little curtly. "I'll explain to him that I relieved you of the responsibility of Patty's place in the show. I say, Patty, let's you and me be Dutch kiddies on the Holland Float."
"Shall us?" said Patty, smiling in a whimsical way that meant nothing at all.
As Patty was preparing for bed that night, Mona came tapping at her door.
"Come in," said Patty. "Oh, it's you, Mona,—well, I AM glad to see you! In the turmoil of this 'house party' of yours, we almost never see each other alone, do we?"
"No; and I'm sorry. But you're enjoying it, aren't you, Patty?"
"Yes, indeed! I love it! People running in and out all the time, and a lot of people all over the house,—oh, yes, it's gay."
"Patty, I'm bothered about this Pageant business. How does it happen that Daisy has taken your part?"
"It wasn't my part. It had never been assigned, until Guy persuaded Daisy to take it."
"Persuaded fiddlesticks! She MADE him give it to her."
"No, she didn't. She was determined NOT to have that part, but he coaxed her into it. She told me so herself."
"Pooh! You don't know Daisy as I do. You're so sweet and generous yourself you think everybody else is. I wish I hadn't asked her here. I thought she had outgrown her school-girl tricks. She was always like that."
"Nothing; never mind. What does Bill say about it?"
"Nothing. I don't believe he knows who's to be Spirit of the Sea. And probably he doesn't care."
"Probably he DOES! Don't be a goose, Patty Fairfield! You know that great big angel Bill adores the ground you walk on."
"Is he as fond of Real Estate as all that? Well, I can't give it to him, for it's your ground that I'm on most of the time, and I suppose the beach is owned by the Realty Company or something."
"FUNNY girl! Patty, you make me laugh boisterously with that wit of yours! Well, Miss Sweetness, will you help me with my costume? Guy has 'persuaded' ME to be Cleopatra on the Nile Float."
"Oh, Mona, how lovely! You'll be a PERFECT Cleopatra. Indeed I will help you! What are you going to wear?"
"Whatever's the right thing. Of course it must be magnificent in effect. I'm going to send for a dressmaker and two helpers to- morrow morning, and put them to work on it. They can fit linings while I send to New York for the material. Lizette can go and select it. What do you think of gold-brocaded white satin?"
"Appropriate enough for Cleopatra, but ridiculous for a pantomime costume! Get white paper muslin or sateen, and trace a design on it with gold paint."
"No, sir-ee! I don't get a chance to shine as a dramatic star often, and I'm going to have the finest costume I can think up!"
"Oh, Mona, you have no sense of proportion," laughed Patty; "go ahead then, and get your white satin, if it will make you happy."
Apparently it would, and the two girls discussed the Cleopatra costume in all its details, until the little clock on the dressing-table held its two hands straight up in shocked surprise.
After Mona left her, Patty gave herself a scolding. It was a habit of hers, when bothered, to sit down in front of a mirror and "have it out with herself" as she expressed it.
"Patty Fairfield," she said to the disturbed looking reflection that confronted her, "you're a silly, childish old thing to feel disappointed because you weren't chosen to be Spirit of the Sea! And you're a mean-spirited, ill-tempered GOOSE to feel as you do, because Daisy Dow has that part. She'll be awfully pretty in it, and Guy Martin had a perfect right to choose her, and she had a perfect right to change her mind and say she'd take it, even if she HAD told you she didn't want it! Now, Miss, what have you to say for yourself? Nothing? I thought so. You're vain and conceited and silly, if you think that you'd be a better Spirit of the Sea than Daisy, and you show a very small and disagreeable nature when you take it so to heart. Now, WILL you brace up and forget it?"
And so practical and just was Patty's true nature that she smiled at herself, and agreed to her own remarks. Then dismissing the whole subject from her mind, she went to bed and to sleep.
Next day she went in search of Laurence Cromer, and found that young man sketching in a corner of one of the picturesque terraces of "Red Chimneys."
"Why these shyness?" asked Patty, as he quickly closed his sketch- book at her approach. "Why these modest coquetry? Art afraid of me? Gentle little me? Who wouldn't hurt a 'squito? Or am it that I be unworthy to look upon a masterpiece created by one of our risingest young artists?"
"I don't want you to see this sketch till it's finished," said Cromer, honestly. "It's going to be an awfully pretty bit, but unfinished, it looks like the dickens. Let me sketch you, Miss Fairfield, may I?"
"Yes, indeed; but can you talk at the same time? I want your advice."
"Oh, yes; the more I talk the better I work. Turn a little more to the right, please. Oh, that's perfect! Rest your fingertips on the balustrade, so—now, don't move!"
"Huh," remarked Patty, as Cromer began to sketch in swiftly, "how long do I have to stand this way? It isn't such an awful lot of fun."
"Oh, DON'T move! This is only a beginning, but I'll make a wonderful picture from it. That shining white linen frock is fine against the gleaming, sunlit marble of the terrace."
"All right, I'll stand," said Patty, goodnaturedly. "Now you can return the favour by helping me out of a quandary. Won't you advise me what part to take in the Pageant? As a matter of fact, I think all the best parts are assigned, and I don't want to be 'one of the populace,' or just 'a voice heard outside'! I want a picturesque part."
"I should say you did! Or, rather the picturesque parts all want you. Now, I'M designing the Niagara Float. It's unfinished, as yet,—the scheme, I mean,—but I know I want a figure for it, a sort of a,—well, a Maid of the Mist, don't you know. A spirituelle girl, draped all in grey misty tulle, and dull silver wings,—long, curving ones, and a star in her hair."
"Lovely!" cried Patty. "And do you think I could be it?"
"Well, I had a brown-haired girl in mind. Your colouring is more like 'Dawn' or 'Spring' or 'Sunshine.'"
"Oh, I HATE my tow-head!" exclaimed Patty. "I wish I was a nut- brown maid."
"Don't be foolish," said Cromer, in a matter-of-fact way. "You are the perfection of your own type. I never saw such true Romney colouring. Pardon me, Miss Fairfield, I'm really speaking of you quite impersonally. Don't be offended, will you?"
"No, indeed," said Patty. "I quite understand, Mr. Cromer. But what part AM I adapted for in the Pageant?"
"If you will, I'd like you to be Maid of the Mist. As I say, I had thought of a darker type, but with a floating veil of misty grey, and grey, diaphanous draperies, you would be very effective. Turn the least bit this way, please."
Patty obeyed directions, while she thought over his idea. "Maid of the Mist" sounded pretty, and the artist's float was sure to be a beautiful one.
"Yes, I'll take that part, if you want me to," she said, and Mr. Cromer said he would design her costume that afternoon.
"Hello, Apple Blossom!" called a big, round voice, and Bill Farnsworth came strolling along the terrace. Perched on his shoulder was Baby May, her tiny hands grasping his thick, wavy hair, and her tiny feet kicking, as she squealed in glee.
"Misser Bill my horsie," she announced. "Me go ridy-by."
"IS there something on my shoulder?" asked Bill, seemingly unconscious of his burden. "I thought a piece of thistledown lighted there, but it may have blown off."
"There is a bit of thistledown there," said Patty, "but don't brush it off. It's rather becoming to you."
"Indeed it is," agreed Cromer. "I'd like to sketch you and that mite of humanity together."
"You're ready to sketch anybody that comes along, seems to me," observed Bill. "Isn't this Miss Fairfield's turn?"
"I expect she's about tired of holding her pose," said the artist. "I'll give her a rest, and make a lightning sketch of you two. Baby's mother may like to have it."
"Oh, give it to me!" begged Patty. "I'd love to have a picture of Baby May."
"But there'll be so much more of me in it than Baby May," said Bill, gravely.
"Never mind," laughed Patty. "I shan't object to your presence there. Now, I'll run away while you pose, for I MIGHT make you laugh at the wrong time."
"Don't go," pleaded Bill, but Patty had already gone.
"What a beautiful thing she is," said Cromer, as he worked away at his sketch-block. He spoke quite as if referring to some inanimate object, for he looked at Patty only with an artist's eye.
"She is," agreed Bill. "She's all of that, and then some. She'll make a perfect Spirit of the Sea. I say, Cromer, help me rig up my Neptune togs, will you?"
"Of course I will, old chap. But Miss Fairfield isn't going to be on your float. She's agreed to be my Maid of the Mist."
"She HAS! I say, Cromer, that's too bad of you! How did you persuade her to change her plan?"
"She didn't change. She had no idea of being on your float. She asked me what I thought she'd better be, and she said all the most desirable parts were already assigned."
"H'm, quite so! Oh, of course,—certainly! Yes, yes, INDEED!"
"What's the matter with you, Bill? Are you raving? Your speech is a bit incoherent."
"Incoherent, is it? Lucky for you! If I were coherent, or said what I'm thinking, you'd be some surprised! You go on making your pencil marks while I think this thing out. All right, Baby; did Uncle Bill joggle you too much? There,—now you're comfy again, aren't you? I say, Laurence, I'll have my picture taken some other day. Excuse me now, won't you? I have a few small fish to fry. Come, Babykins, let's go find mummy."
"H'm," said Laurence Cromer to himself, as Bill swung off with mighty strides toward the house. "Somehow, I fancy he'll regain his lost Spirit of the Sea, or there'll be something doing!"
Baby May was gently, if somewhat unceremoniously, deposited in her mother's lap, and Bill said gaily, "Much obliged for this dance. Reserve me one for to-morrow morning at the same hour. And, I say, Mrs. Kenerley, could you put me on the trail of Miss Fairfield?"
"She went off in her runabout with Roger Farrington. I think she's heading for the telegraph office to order much materials and gewgaws for the Pageant."
"Then, do you know where Daisy Dow is? I MUST flirt with somebody!"
"Try me," said pretty little Mrs. Kenerley, demurely.
"I would, but I'm afraid Baby May would tell her father."
"That's so; she might. Well, Daisy is at the telephone in the library; I hear her talking."
"Thank you," said Big Bill, abruptly, and started for the library.
"Yes," he heard Daisy saying as he entered the room, "a long, light green veil, floating backward, held by a wreath of silver stars ... Certainly ... Oh, yes, I understand ... Good-bye."
She hung up the receiver, and turned to see Bill looking at her with a peculiar expression on his handsome, honest face.
"What are you going to represent in your light green veil, Daisy?" he asked.
"The Spirit of the Sea," she replied. "I've arranged for the loveliest costume,—all green and shimmery, and dripping with seaweed."
"How did you happen to be chosen for that part, Daisy?"
"Guy Martin insisted upon it. He said there was no one else just right for it."
"How about Patty Fairfield?"
"Oh, she WOULDN'T take it. She told Guy so."
"She did! I wonder WHY she wouldn't take it?"
"I don't know, Bill, I'm sure. It COULDN'T have been because you're Neptune, could it?"
"It might be," Bill flung out, between closed teeth, and turning, he strode quickly away.
"Bill," called Daisy, and he returned.
"What is it?" he said, and his face showed a hurt, pained look, rather than anger.
"Only this: Patty asked Guy as a special favour not to mention this matter to her. So I daresay you'll feel in honour bound not to speak of it."
"H'm; I don't know as my honour binds me very strongly in that direction."
"But it MUST, Bill!" and Daisy looked distinctly troubled. "I oughtn't to have told you, for Patty trusted me not to tell anybody."
"Patty ought to know better than to trust you at all!" and with this parting shaft, Bill walked away. On the veranda he met Guy Martin, who had called for a moment to discuss some Pageant plans with Mona. Guy was just leaving, and Bill walked by his side, down the path to the gate.
"Just a moment, Martin, please. As man to man, tell me if Patty Fairfield refused to take the part of the Spirit of the Sea?"
"Why, yes; she did," said Guy, looking perplexed. "It's a queer business and very unlike Patty. But she wrote me a note, saying she didn't want the part, and asking me not to mention the matter to her at all."
"She did? Thank you. Good-bye." And Bill returned to the house, apparently thinking deeply.
"Hello, Billy Boy, what's the matter?" called Mona, gaily, as he came up the veranda steps.
"I'm pining for you," returned Bill. "Do shed the light of your countenance on me for a few blissful moments. You're the most unattainable hostess I ever house-partied with!"
"All right, I'll walk down to the lower terrace and back with you. Now, tell me what's on your mind."
"How sympathetic you are, Mona. Well, I will tell you. I'm all broken up over this Pageant business. I wanted Patty Fairfield on the float with me, and she won't take the part, and now Daisy has cabbaged it."
"I know it. But Patty says Guy Martin chose Daisy in preference to her. And she says it's all right."
"Great jumping Anacondas! She says THAT, does she? And she says it's all right, does she? Well, it's just about as far from all right as the North Pole is from the South Pole! Oh—ho! E—hee! Wow, wow! I perceive a small beam of light breaking in upon this black cat's pocket of a situation! Mona, will you excuse me while I go to raise large and elegant ructions among your lady friends?"
"Now, Bill, don't stir up a fuss. I know your wild Western way of giving people 'a piece of your mind,' but Spring Beach society doesn't approve of such methods. What's it all about, Bill? Tell me, and let's settle it quietly."
"Settle it quietly! When an injustice has been done that ought to be blazoned from East to West!"
"Yes, and make matters most uncomfortable for the victim of that injustice."
Big Bill calmed down. The anger faded from his face, his hands unclenched themselves, and he sat down on the terrace balustrade.
"You're right, Mona," he said, in a low, tense voice. "I'm nothing but an untamed cowboy! I have no refinement, no culture, no judgment. But I'll do as you say; I'll settle this thing QUIETLY."
As a matter of fact, Bill's quiet, stern face and firm-set jaw betokened an even more strenuous "settlement" than his blustering mood had done; but he dropped the whole subject, and began to talk to Mona, interestedly, about her own part in the Pageant.
IN THE ARBOUR
After returning from her motor ride with Roger, Patty went to her room to write some letters.
But she had written only so far as "My dearest Nan," when a big pink rose came flying through the open window and fell right on the paper.
Patty looked up, laughing, for she knew it was Bill who threw the blossom.
The bay window of Patty's boudoir opened on a particularly pleasant corner of the upper veranda,—a corner provided with wicker seats and tables, and screened by awnings from the midday sun. And when Patty was seated by her desk in that same bay window, half-hidden by the thin, fluttering curtain draperies, Big Bill Farnsworth had an incurable habit of strolling by. But he did not respond to Patty's laughter in kind.
"Come out here," he said, and his tone was not peremptory, but beseechingly in earnest. Wondering a little, Patty rose and stepped over the low sill to the veranda. Bill took her two little hands in his own two big ones, and looked her straight in the eyes.
"What part are YOU going to take in this foolish racket they're getting up?" he asked.
"I'm going to be Maid of the Mist," answered Patty, trying to speak as if she didn't care.
"Why aren't you going to be Spirit of the Sea?"
"Because Guy asked Daisy to take that part."
"Yes! he asked her after you had refused to take it!"
"Refused! What do you mean?"
"Oh, I know all about it! You wrote a note to Martin, telling him you wouldn't take the part, and asking him not to mention the subject to you again."
"What!" and all the colour went out of Patty's face as the thought flashed across her mind what this meant. She saw at once that Daisy had given that note to Guy, as coming from HER! She saw that Daisy MUST have done this intentionally! And this knowledge of a deed so despicable, so IMPOSSIBLE, from Patty's standpoint, stunned her like a blow.
But she quickly recovered herself. Patty's mind always JUMPED from one thought to another, and she knew, instantly, that however contemptible Daisy's act had been, she could not and would not disclose it.
"Oh, that note," she said, striving to speak carelessly.
"Yes, THAT NOTE," repeated Bill, still gazing straight at her. "Tell me about it."
"There's nothing to tell," said Patty, her voice trembling a little at this true statement of fact.
"You wrote it?"
"Yes,—I wrote it," Patty declared, for she could not tell the circumstance of her writing it.
Bill let go her hands, and a vanquished look came into his eyes.
"I—I hoped you didn't," he said, simply; "but as you did, then I know WHY you did it. Because you didn't want to be on the float with me."
"Oh, no,-NO, Bill!" cried Patty, shocked at this added injustice. "It wasn't THAT,—truly it wasn't!"
Gladness lighted up Bill's face, and his big blue eyes beamed again.
"Wasn't it?" he said. "Wasn't it, Apple Blossom? Then, tell me, why DID you write it?"
"But I don't want to tell you," and Patty pouted one of her very prettiest pouts.
"But you shall tell me! If you don't,"—Bill came a step nearer,— "I'll pick you up and toss you up into the top branches of that biggest pine tree over there!"
"Pooh! Who's afraid?"
Patty's saucy smile was too much for Bill, and, catching her up, he cradled her in his strong arms, and swung her back and forth, as if preparatory to pitching her into the tree.
"Here you go!" he said, laughing at her surprised face. "One,— two—"
"Mr. Farnsworth!" exclaimed a shocked voice, and Aunt Adelaide came hastening toward them.
Bill set Patty down, not hastily, but very deliberately, and then said, with an anxious air:
"How did it go, Mrs. Parsons? We're practising for our great scene in the Pageant—the Spirit of the Sea, tossed by old Father Neptune. I do my part all right, but Miss Fairfield needs more practice, don't you think so?"
Aunt Adelaide looked scrutinisingly at the young man, but his expression was so earnest that she couldn't doubt him.
"Patty looked scared to death," she said, with reminiscent criticism. "Oughtn't she to look more gay and careless?"
"She certainly ought," assented Bill. "Will you try the scene once more, Miss Fairfield, with Mrs. Parsons for audience?"
"I will not!" exclaimed Patty, and trying hard to repress her giggles, she fled back through her window, and drew the curtains.
"I didn't know you were to have acting on the floats," said Aunt Adelaide, innocently.
"I'm not sure that we shall," returned Farnsworth, easily. "I had a notion it would be effective, but perhaps not. Do you know where Miss Dow is, by any chance?"
"Why, I think she's just starting for the Sayres'. Yes, there she goes now,—walking down the path." "WILL you excuse me then, Mrs. Parsons, if I make a hurried exit? I want to see her on a MOST important matter."
Big Bill fairly flung himself down the little staircase that led from the upper veranda to the lower one, and in a few moments, with long strides, he had overtaken Daisy, who was alone.
"Whoop-ee! Daisy, wait a minute!" he cried, as he neared her.
"What for?" and Daisy turned, smiling, but her smile faded as she caught sight of Bill's face.
"Because I tell you to!" thundered Bill. "Because I want to talk to you,—and, right now!"
"I—I'm going on an errand—" faltered Daisy, fairly frightened at his vehemence.
"I don't care if you're going on an errand for the Czar of Russia; you turn around, and walk along with me."
"Wherever I lead you! Here's a rose arbour, this will do. In with you!"
Daisy entered the arbour, trembling. She had never seen Farnsworth so angry before, and her guilty conscience made her feel sure he had discovered her treachery. In the arbour they were screened from observation, and Bill lowered his voice.
"Now," said he, "tell me all about this 'Spirit of the Sea' business. What underhanded game did you play to get the part away from Patty Fairfield?"
"I didn't! She told Guy Martin she wouldn't take it."
"Yes; she wrote him a note. Now, in some way or other, you made her write that note. How did you do it?"
"Did she tell you I made her write it?"
"No, she didn't! She said she wrote it, but she wouldn't tell me why."
Daisy's eyes opened wide. Then Patty KNEW the note had been given to Guy in her name, and yet she didn't denounce Daisy! Such generosity was almost outside Daisy's comprehension, and she paused to think it out. At last she said:
"Why do YOU think she wouldn't tell you?"
"I don't THINK, I KNOW! A man has only to look into Patty Fairfield's clear, honest eyes to know that she's incapable of meanness or deceit. While you,—forgive me, Daisy, but I've known you for years,—and you ARE capable of gaining your own ends by underhanded methods."
"What do you accuse me of?" and Daisy's air of injured innocence was well assumed.
"I don't know," and Bill looked exceedingly perplexed. "But I DO know that in some way you persuaded Patty to give up that part, because you wanted it yourself."
Daisy drew a long breath of relief. Then, she thought, he didn't know, after all, just what she HAD done, and perhaps she could carry it through yet.
"You're mistaken," she said, in a kind way, "Patty did write that note, but she had her own reasons, and she desired, especially, that no one should mention the subject to her."
"Yes," said Bill, "and it's that strange reluctance to having the subject mentioned that makes me suspect YOUR hand in the matter. Patty refused to discuss it with me, but the look of blank astonishment in her face, when I referred to that note, convinced me there's a bit of deviltry SOMEWHERE. And I ascribe it to you!"
"You do me an injustice," and now Daisy's tone was haughty and distant; "but I cannot resent it. For Patty's sake, I too must refuse to discuss this matter. Think of me as you will,—I cannot defend myself."
Daisy's face grew so sad and martyr-like that generous-hearted Bill was almost convinced of her innocence.
"I say, Daisy," he began, "if I'm wronging you in this matter, I'll never forgive myself."
"Oh, never mind, Bill; I'm used to being misunderstood. But I'll forgive you, if you'll promise never to refer to the subject again to me, or to any one else."
Bill might have promised this, but the too eager gleam in Daisy's eyes again roused his suspicions. And just then he saw Patty crossing a bit of lawn near them.
"Whoo-ee!" he called, and as Patty turned, he beckoned for her to come to them.
"What's wanted?" called Patty, gaily, as she neared the arbour.
"You," said Bill, while Daisy sank down on the arbour seat, and seemed to crumple up in abject fear of what was about to happen.
"Now, Miss Fairfield," Bill began, "there's a little matter I want cleared up. It's the note you wrote to Mr. Martin saying you didn't wish to be Spirit of the Sea."
Daisy cast one piteous, despairing glance at Patty, and then covered her face in her hands.
At first, Patty's blue eyes flashed with a righteous indignation, to think how Daisy had abused her kindness in writing that note at dictation. Then a great wave of compassion swept through her heart. The deed was so foreign to her own nature that she felt deep pity for one who was capable of such a thing. And Daisy's evident misery roused her sympathy. She didn't stop to think that probably Daisy's regret was at being found out and not for the deed itself, but Patty's forgiveness was full and free, even before it was asked. In her unbounded generosity of heart, she resolved to shield Daisy from Farnsworth's wrath.
"What about the note?" she asked, simply.
"Did you write it?"
"Did any one force or persuade you to write it?"
"I did it willingly, and without compulsion."
"Did Daisy know you wrote it?"
"She knew it, yes. She gave it to Guy Martin."
Bill was nonplussed. He KNEW there was some secret about that note, but he couldn't quite fathom it.
And every word Patty spoke, though quite true, and seeming to exonerate Daisy, made the guilty girl more and more amazed that one she had so injured COULD be so forgiving.
"Didn't you want to be Spirit of the Sea?" Bill said at last, desperately anxious on that point.
Patty hesitated. She couldn't truly say she didn't, and to say she did would bring up the question of the note again.
"I DID want to," she said, slowly, "but, since Daisy has that part,—and I have another, and a very pretty part,—I am quite content."
"Then there is nothing more to be said," Farnsworth muttered. "The incident is closed."
He started to leave the arbour, and Daisy lifted her troubled eyes to Patty's face. Patty tried to smile, but there must have been an involuntary shadow of reproach in her blue eyes, which, for some reason, went straight to Daisy's heart.
"DON'T look at me like that, Patty," she cried out; "I can't bear it! Bill, come back! The incident ISN'T closed. I want to tell you, Bill, what I did. Patty wrote that note, at my dictation, thinking it was for me,—I had a hurt finger,—and I told her I'd sign it,—and I DIDN'T sign it,—I gave it to Guy as if it was from her—oh, Patty—will you forgive me? WILL you?"
"There, there, Daisy," and Patty put her arms around the sobbing girl. "Never mind, it's all right."
"It isn't all right!" exclaimed Farnsworth, his eyes blazing. "Daisy Dow, do you mean to tell me—"
"She doesn't mean to tell YOU anything," interrupted Patty. "She's only going to tell me. I wish you'd go away. This note matter is entirely between Daisy and myself. It's—it's a sort of a—a joke, you see."
Daisy sat up straight, and stared at Patty. What sort of a girl was this, anyhow, who could forgive so freely and fully, and then call it all a JOKE!
But Daisy knew generosity when she saw it, and with her heart overflowing with gratitude at Patty's kindness, she bravely acknowledged her own fault.
"It ISN'T a joke, Bill," she said, in an unsteady voice. "I did a horrid, hateful thing, and Patty is so angelic and forgiving she makes me feel too mean to live."
"Nonsense," said Patty, "there's no harm done, I'm glad you owned up, Daisy, for now we can forget the whole episode, and start fresh."
But Farnsworth couldn't toss the matter aside so easily.
"Daisy," he said, looking at her sternly, "I never heard of such a mean piece of business in my life! I think—"
"Never mind what you think!" cried Patty, turning on him like a little fury. "YOU'RE the MEAN one,—to rub it in when Daisy is feeling so bad over it."
"She ought to feel bad," growled Bill.
"Well, she DOES, if that's such a comfort to you," retorted Patty. "Now, go away, and leave us girls alone, won't you? This is our own little sewing circle, and we don't want any men at it."
Patty was really so relieved at the turn things had taken, that she gave Bill a happy smile, which contradicted her crusty words.
"No, I won't go away," he declared; "you girls want to weep on each other's shoulders,—that's what you want. I'm going to stay and see the performance."
"You can't stay, unless you'll say you forgive Daisy, and love her just the same."
"Just the same as who?" demanded Bill, quickly, and Patty blushed adorably.
"Just the same as you always did," she returned, severely.
"Do forgive me, Bill," said Daisy, contritely; "I'm awfully sorry."
Farnsworth looked at her, squarely. "I'll forgive you, Daisy," he said, "if you'll make good. Let Patty take the Spirit of the Sea part, and you take something else."
"I won't do it," said Patty, quickly, but Daisy said, "Yes, you must. I shan't feel that you've really forgiven me unless you do."
As a matter of fact, Daisy saw little prospect of pleasure for herself in being Spirit of the Sea, after all this, and she doubted whether Bill would be Neptune if she did.
Patty demurred further, but both the others coaxed so hard that she finally yielded to their persuasions.
"What will the others say?" she asked, at last.
"Nothing at all," responded Bill, promptly. "Simply announce that you and Daisy have agreed to change parts. Then Daisy can be 'Maid of the Mist,' and you can be the Water Sprite of old Neptune's float."
"I'll do it, on one condition," said Patty; "and that is, that no one else is let into our secret. Let Guy continue to think that I sent him that note, but that I changed my mind about it. And don't tell anybody at all, not even Mona, the truth of the matter."
"Gee! You're a wonder!" exclaimed Farnsworth, and Daisy threw her arms round Patty's neck and kissed her.
"Oh, don't give me undue credit," Patty said, laughing; "but, you see, I just naturally hate a 'fuss,' and I want to forget all about this affair right away. Daisy, you're just the sort of brown hair and eyes Mr. Cromer wants for his Maid of the Mist. You'll be perfectly sweet in that."
"You're perfectly sweet in everything, Patty; I never saw any one like you!"
"Neither did I," said Farnsworth, with emphasis.
"Oh, here you are," drawled a slow voice, and Laurence Cromer came sauntering along in search of Patty. "Don't you want to discuss your costume now? There's only a half-hour before luncheon time."
"Well, you see, Mr. Cromer," said Patty, smiling at him, "you said you wanted a more brownish lady for your misty maid. So Miss Dow and I have decided to change places."
"All right," agreed Cromer. "It makes no difference to me, personally, of course. I'm merely designing the Niagara Float as an architect would. I think perhaps a brunette would be better adapted to the part of Maid of the Mist, as I have planned it, but it's as you choose."
"Then we choose this way," declared Patty.
"Run along, Daisy, and Mr. Cromer will tell you just what to get for your misty robes."
Daisy went away, and Farnsworth turned to Patty with a reproachful glance.
"You let her off too easy," he said. "A girl who would do a thing like that ought to be punished."
"Punished, how?" said Patty, quietly.
"Her deceit ought to be exposed before the others. It oughtn't to be hushed up,—it makes it too easy for her."
"Her deceit, as you call it, affected no one but me. Therefore, there's no reason for any one else to know of it. And Daisy has been punished quite enough. I read in her eyes the sorrow and remorse she has suffered for what she did. And I know she did it on a sudden impulse,—an uncontrollable desire to have that particular part in the Pageant. Now, I have forgiven and forgotten it all, it's but a trifle. And I can see no reason why YOU should still hold it against her."
Farnsworth looked steadily into Patty's eyes, and a sort of shamed flush rose to his cheeks.
"You're bigger than I am, Little Girl," he said, as he held out his hand.
Patty put her little hand into his, and in that understanding clasp, they buried the subject never to refer to it again.
"Oh, no, I'm not really bigger than you," she said, lightly.
"Not physically, no," he returned, looking down at her. "If you were, I couldn't toss you into a treetop!"
"You got out of that beautifully with Aunt Adelaide," and Patty laughed at the recollection. "But I'm going to scold you for picking me up in that unceremonious fashion."
"I know,—it WAS dreadful! But,—perhaps I did it on a sudden impulse,—you know,—you forgive THOSE!"
Patty remembered her defence of Daisy, and couldn't repress a smile at the boy's wheedlesome argument.
"Well, don't let it happen again," she said with an attempt at extreme hauteur.
But Farnsworth replied, "When I get a real good chance, I'm going to pick you up and carry you a million miles away."
"Catch me first!" cried Patty, and darting away from him, she ran like a deer toward the house.
Farnsworth stood looking after her, but made no move to follow.
The big fellow was thinking to himself, wondering and pondering in his slow, honest way, on why that little scrap of pink and white humanity had all unconsciously twined herself around his very heartstrings.
"Apple Blossom!" he murmured, beneath his breath, and then sauntered slowly toward the house.
THE SPIRIT OF THE SEA
The night of the Pageant was as beautiful as the most exacting young person could desire. There was no moon, but there seemed to be an extra bright scattering of stars to make up for it. A soft, cool ocean breeze stirred the air, there was no dampness, and everybody pronounced the evening as perfect as if specially made for the occasion.
An early dinner was served at "Red Chimneys," and then the guests dispersed to don their carnival costumes.
With her usual promptness, Patty was ready first, and coming down to the drawing-room, found nobody there. So she took opportunity to admire her own effects in the multitude of mirrors.
It was an exquisite reflection that faced her. She had not adopted Daisy's idea of fishnet, as that seemed to her too heavy. Laurence Cromer had approved of her own suggestions, and together they had designed her costume. It was of pale green chiffon, trailing away in long, wavy lines. Over it, hung from the shoulders a tunic-like drapery of white chiffon. This was frosted, here and there, with broken, shimmering lines of silver, and the whole effect hinted of moonlight on the sea.
Patty's wonderful hair fell in curling, tumbling masses over her shoulders and far down her back. In it were twined a few strands of seaweed,—beautifully coloured French work, which Laurence Cromer had procured from somewhere by a very special order. Across the top of her head a silver band confined the riotous curls, and from it, in the centre, rose an upright silver star.
Though simple, the whole costume was harmonious and picturesque, and suited Patty's fair beauty to perfection. Her bare arms and throat were soft and rounded as a baby's, and her lovely face had a pink glow of happiness, while her eyes were like two starlit violets.
She peacocked about the room, frankly delighted at her own reflection in the mirrors, and practised the pose she was to assume on the Float.
In the mirror she saw that a majestic figure was entering the room, and wheeling swiftly about, she beheld Father Neptune himself smiling at her.
Farnsworth had sent to a theatrical costumer in the city for his garb, and very handsome he looked in a dark green velvet robe that hung in classic folds. He wore a snow-white wig and long white beard, and a gold and jewelled crown that was dazzlingly regal. He carried a trident, and in all respects, looked the part as Neptune is so often pictured. Patty gazed at him a moment in silent admiration, and then sprang to her pose, lightly poised forward, her weight on one foot, and her arms gracefully outspread.
Big Bill held his breath. Always lithe and graceful, to-night Patty looked like a veritable spirit. Her floating draperies, her golden hair, and her perfect face, crowned with the single silver star, seemed to belong to some super-human being, not to a mere mortal.
Big Bill walked slowly toward her.
"Patty!" he murmured, almost beneath his breath. "Apple Blossom! I want you so!"
A lovelier pink rose to Patty's cheeks, for it was impossible to mistake the earnestness in Bill's voice. She smiled at him, gently for a moment, and then roguishly, and her dimples flashed into view, as she danced lightly away from him, calling back over her shoulder, "Catch me first!"
"You'll say that once too often yet, my lady!" declared Farnsworth, as he stood with folded arms looking after her, but not following her dancing footsteps.
At the hall doorway, Patty turned and looked back, down the long room. Farnsworth stood where she had left him, and his majestic pose, as he held his gilded trident, suited well his stalwart, magnificent physique.
"Come back here," he said, and his voice was not dictatorial, but quietly compelling.
Slowly Patty danced down the room, swaying, as if in rhythm with unheard music. As she came to a pause in front of Farnsworth, she made him a sweeping, mocking courtesy.
"Father Neptune, god of the Sea!" she said, as if offering homage.
Farnsworth raised his hand, dramatically.
"Spirit of the Sea," he said, "Nymph of the silver-crested waves, kneel before me!"
Catching his mood, Patty sank gracefully on one knee, bowing her fair head before the majestic sea-god.
"I crown thee," Neptune went on, "fairest of all nymphs, loveliest of all goddesses. Spirit of the Sea, but also, maiden of the apple blossoms."
Patty felt a light touch on her bowed head, but did not move, until a moment later, Neptune held out his hand.
"Rise, Spirit of the Sea, crowned by Neptune, god of the Ocean!"
Patty rose, and in a nearby mirror saw her crown. It was a slender wreath of wonderfully fine workmanship. Leaves of fairy-like silver filigree, and tiny apple blossoms, of pink and white enamel. Light in weight, soft, yet sparkling in effect, it rested on her fair head, in no way interfering with the silver star that flashed above it. Indeed, it seemed the last touch needed to perfect the beauty of Patty's costume, and her face was more than ever like an apple blossom as she turned to thank Farnsworth for his gift.
But before she could do so, several people sprang in from the hall, where they had been watching the coronation ceremony.
"Hooray for you two!" cried Roger. "You show true dramatic genius! Patty, you're a peach to-night! Bill, you're a hummer!"
Only Daisy was unsmiling. A pang of jealousy thrilled her heart, as she saw the exquisite picture Patty made, and saw, too, the lovely gift Farnsworth had given her. Daisy's costume was beautiful and exceedingly artistic, but the grey, misty garb seemed tame beside Patty's clear coloured draperies and bright, sea-weed tangled hair.
"Patty, you're wonderful!" Mona exclaimed. "If I weren't so weighted down with this dragging train, I'd hug you!"
Mona looked regal in her Cleopatra costume. She had chosen a rich white and gold brocaded satin, and the gold lace on the train which hung from her shoulders, made it heavy indeed. She was loaded with jewels, both real and paste, and her Egyptian headdress was both gorgeous and becoming. Mona had never looked so well, and Roger, who was Father Nile, expressed his admiration frankly.
"I say, Mona," he declared, "if the real Cleo Pat looked like you, I don't blame old Mark for flirting with her. Maybe I'll flirt with you before the evening is over."
"Ha! Minion! Methinks thou art presumptuous!" said Mona, marching about theatrically. But she smiled at Roger, for the two had become good friends.
Adele and Jim Kenerley were Dutch young people, and in blue and white cotton costumes, looked as if they had just alighted from an old Delft platter.
Laurence Cromer took no costume part, as he had to direct the posing of the characters and the scenic details of the parade.
Mrs. Parsons was enchanted with the gorgeousness of her party of young people, and when Patty gave her a sprig of seaweed to tuck in her bodice, she felt as if she belonged to the water carnival.
Motors carried the laughing crowd to the Sayres' house, from where the floats were to start.
Of course Old Ocean's Float led the parade. Though not very realistic, it was a theatrical representation of the sea, and the great billows, made of green muslin crested with cotton batting and stretched over somewhat wabbly framework, tossed and swayed almost like the Atlantic breakers. At the back end of the float was a great canopied throne, on which sat the gold-crowned Neptune holding his firmly planted trident. Before him seemed to dance the Spirit of the Sea, for Patty, now in one pose and now in another, was outlined against the dark billows with charming effect. A bright electric light streaming from a point above the throne, illuminated both characters and threw into relief the shells and seaweed that decorated the sides of the float.
The other floats were equally well done,—some even better in artistic conception. Each received uproarious applause as it rolled slowly along the line of march. Hotels and cottages were all illuminated, and the whole population of Spring Beach was out admiring the Pageant.
"Aren't you tired, Patty?" asked Farnsworth, gently, as she changed her pose.
"Yes, I am," she confessed; "but it isn't the posing,—it's the jolting. I had no idea the ocean was so rickety!"
"Poor little girlie! I wish I could do something for you. But we have to go a couple of miles further yet. Can you stand it!"
"Yes; but I'd rather SIT it!"
"Do! Come and sit on this throne beside me. There's plenty of room."
"Oh, nonsense, I couldn't. What would the people think?"
"Do you want to KNOW what they'd think?" returned Farnsworth, promptly. "They'd think that you were old Neptune's Queen, and that you meant to sit beside him all the rest of your life. Let them think that, Patty,—and, let it be true! Will you, my apple blossom girl?"
"No, Bill," said Patty, quietly, and changed her pose so that she did not face him. His words had startled her. Above the rumbling of the float, she had heard him clearly, though, of course, they could not be overheard by the laughing, chattering bystanders.
His earnest tones had left no room for doubt of his meaning, and after Patty's first shock of surprise, she felt a deep regret that he should have spoken thus. But in an instant her quick wit told her that she must not think about it now. She must turn a laughing, careless face to the passing audience.
"Nay, nay, Neptune," she said, facing him again, "I must play my own part. If a life on the ocean wave is not as easy as I had hoped, yet must I brave it out to the end."
Farnsworth took his cue. He knew he ought not to have spoken so seriously at this time, but it was really involuntary. He had fallen deeply in love with the Eastern girl, and his Western whole-heartedness made it difficult for him to conceal his feelings. He flashed a warm, sunny smile at her and said heartily:
"All right, Sea Sprite! I know your pluck and perseverance. You'll get there, with bells on! Take the easiest pose you can, and hang on to that foam-crested wave near you. It sways a bit, but it's firmly anchored. I looked out for that, before I trusted you to this ramshackle old hay wagon!"
Patty smiled back, really helped by his hearty sympathy and strong, ringing voice.
"I HATE to be so,—so unable to stand things!" she exclaimed, pouting a little.
"You're no Sandow girl," he replied; "but—one can't expect an apple blossom to be as strong as a—a cabbage!"
"Nor as strong as a great big Westerner," she returned, looking admiringly at the stalwart Neptune, and thereby pleasing him greatly, for Big Bill was honestly proud of his pounds and inches.
At last they reached the Country Club, which was their destination, and the parade was over; though as the carnival was to conclude with a supper and a dance for the participators, the best part of the fun was yet to come. Aunt Adelaide, who had reached the clubhouse a little earlier, was waiting for her charges, and Bill promptly escorted Patty to her.
"Look after this little girl, won't you, Mrs. Parsons?" he said. "She'll be O. K. after a few moments' rest, but a seafaring life is a hard one, and this little craft is glad to get into port."
Patty gave him a grateful glance, and said:
"Nonsense, Aunt Adelaide, I'm not really tired, but I just want to sit down a while. My feet have a headache!"
"I don't wonder!" declared Mona. "It was awful for you to perch on one toe for a hundred million mile ride! And I reclined at ease on a Roman trident, or whatever you call it!" "Tripod, you mean," said Adele, laughing, "or is it trireme?"
"Dunno," said Mona, who was arranging Patty in a soft easy-chair in the dressing-room of the club. "Now, you sit there, you Sea Witch," she commanded, "and I'll have a maid bring you a hot bouillon or a weak tea, whichever you prefer. You can't have coffee, it might spoil that pinky-winky complexion of yours."
"Nothing can spoil that!" said Daisy, and though the remark sounded complimentary, it was prompted by a spirit of jealousy. Daisy had truly appreciated Patty's generosity in the matter of the note but she couldn't gracefully submit to having her own brunette beauty eclipsed by what she called a doll-face.
Patty's weariness was purely muscular, and so of short duration, and after ten minutes' rest, she was feeling as fresh as ever.
"Now, what do we do?" she asked, shaking her draperies into place and adjusting the new wreath on her hair.
"Now comes the supper," said Mona, "and I'm glad of it. Come on, girls."
The long dining hall at the club was a pretty sight. The guests were all in their Pageant costumes, and as the various float groups mingled, the contrasts were effective. A Venetian gondolier escorted a fisher girl of the Seine, or a bold buccaneer from the Spanish Main clanked his sword in time with the clatter of the wooden sabots of a Holland lass.
Neptune was waiting to escort the Spirit of the Sea to a table, but as Patty came through the dressing-room door, Captain Sayre bowed before her, and asked the honour of taking her to supper. As Farnsworth had made no engagement with Patty, merely taking it for granted that she would go with him, she saw no reason to decline Captain Sayre's invitation, and went gaily away with him.
Farnsworth gazed after her with a look of dazed bewilderment.
"Had you asked her?" said an amused voice, and turning, he saw Mrs. Parsons at his elbow.
"No! I was too stupid to think of it!"
"Patty is so very popular, you know, it's difficult to secure her favours. Have you engaged any dances?"
"No! What an idiot I am! You see, Mrs. Parsons, I'm not really a 'society man,' and in these formal affairs, I'm a bit out of my element. Will you do me the honour to go to supper with me?"
Aunt Adelaide looked at the towering figure in its regal velvet robes.
"I oughtn't to," she said, with a little laugh, "but I can't resist the temptation. So I will! The idea of MY going with the king of the whole show!"
"Excepting Miss Fairfield, there's no one I'd rather have," said Big Bill, honestly, and so Father Neptune strode majestically to his seat at the head of the table, and at his right sat primly, fluttering Aunt Adelaide, instead of the witching sprite he had expected to place there.
Patty was really glad, for she didn't wish to appear too exclusively with Farnsworth, and yet she was a little disappointed, too, for as the Spirit of the Sea, her place was by Father Neptune.
But Captain Sayre made himself very entertaining, and as Jack Pennington was on her other side, she soon forgot all about Little Billee, and gave herself up to the fun of the moment.
"I well remember your beautiful dancing," said the captain. "Will you give me some waltzes?"
"I don't give them plurally," said Patty, smiling at him. "I'll give you one, perhaps; a half one, anyway."
"Not enough!" said Captain Sayre, decidedly. "I must have more than that, by fair means—or otherwise. Where is your card?"
"I haven't any yet; won't it be time enough to get one after supper?"
"Yes, if you let me see it before any one else. I find it's a trick with the young men here to make dance engagements surreptitiously at the supper table."
Patty glanced about, and saw more than one tasselled card appearing and disappearing from hand to hand.
A moment later, she heard a voice behind her chair. "Apple Blossom," it whispered, "I've brought you a dance card. Say 'Thank you, Bill.'"
"Thank you, Father Neptune," said Patty, flashing a smile at him, as she took the card, and turned back to the captain.
THE APPLE BLOSSOM DANCE
"Now I have a programme, Captain Sayre," Patty said. "If you really want a part of a dance—"
"I don't!" declared the captain, positively. "There are some ladies I'd dance half a dance with, but NOT with you."
"Then I suppose I'll have to give you a whole one," Patty sighed, "and I know I won't have enough to go 'round. You know it's late, and there are only ten dances on the list."
"And they're half gone!" exclaimed Captain Sayre, as he looked at the card Patty had handed him.
"What!" she cried, looking at it herself.
Sure enough there was a very big black B. F. written against every other dance!
"Bill Farnsworth!" she exclaimed. "Well, if he hasn't a nerve! He wants the earth!"
"And the sea, and all that in them is!" said Captain Sayre. "Look here, Miss Fairfield, I'll be satisfied with the other five. Thus, you're dividing your dances evenly, don't you see?"
"Nonsense! I'll agree to no such highway robbery! You may have a dance, Captain Sayre,—take a waltz, if you like; and then give me my card again. Do you want one, Jack?"
"DO I? Does a squirrel want nuts? Only one, Sea Spirit?"
"Yes, only one. It's such a short programme to-night."
"And is Big Bill to have five?"
"Indeed, no! I shall cross those all off but one."
Learning, somehow, of what was going on, most of the men at the table began to beg Patty for a dance, and in a few moments her card was filled.
She shook her head reprovingly at Farnsworth, who quite understood the reason.
Supper over, the dancing began, and as it was a summer evening, the dances alternated with cooling strolls on the long verandas of the club house. Patty loved to dance, and greatly preferred good dancers for partners.
Captain Sayre was especially proficient in the art, and as their dance was followed by an "extra," he persuaded Patty to do a fancy dance with him, like they had danced at the Sayres' garden party. Soon most of the dancers had paused to watch the two, swaying and pirouetting in a dance, partly impromptu, and partly fashioned on some they had previously learned. It was a pretty sight. Patty, whose step was light as thistledown, followed any hint of Captain Sayre's, and so clever were his leads that the audience broke into loud applause. It was almost more than Farnsworth could bear. He stood looking at them with such a wistful expression that Patty concluded to stop.
"I'm a little tired," she whispered to her partner, "but I want to dance a moment alone. Will you let me? And ask the orchestra to play the Spring Song."
"I'll love to look at you," declared the captain, and at the end of a measure, he gracefully danced away from her, and Patty stood alone.
The rest had all ceased dancing now, preferring to watch, and as they were nearly all Patty's friends and acquaintances, she felt no embarrassment.
"The Apple Blossom Dance," she said, and flung herself into a series of wonderful rhythmic motions that seemed to give hint of all the charms of spring. One could almost see flowers and hear birds as the light draperies swayed like veils in a soft breeze. And then, with a fleeting glance and smile at Farnsworth, Patty plucked apple blossoms from overhanging boughs, and tossed them to the audience. There were no trees, and there were no blossoms, but so exquisite was her portrayal of blossom time, and so lovely her swaying arms and tossing hair that many were ready to declare they could even detect the fragrance of the flowers. But when Patty essayed to stop, the riotous applause that followed and the cries of "Encore! encore!" persuaded her to dance once more, though very tired.
More languidly this time the apple blossoms were plucked from the branches, more slowly the springtime steps were taken, and before she reached a point in the music where she could stop, Patty was swaying from faintness, not by design.
Farnsworth saw this, and acting on a sudden impulse, he swung the great folds of his trailing velvet over his arm, and with a few gliding steps, reached her side, threw an arm round her, and suiting his steps to hers, continued the figure she had begun. But he supported her weary little form, he held her in a strong, firm clasp, and, a fine dancer himself, he completed the "Apple Blossom Dance" with her, which she never could have done alone. Then, after bowing together to the delighted and tumultuously applauding audience, he led her to a seat, and shielded her from the unthinking crowd, who begged her to dance for them again.
"Little Billee, you're a dear!" said Patty, as the next dance took the people away again. "How did you know I was going to sink through the floor in just one more minute?"
"I saw how tired you were, and though I hated to 'butt in' on your performance, I just felt I had to, to save you from collapse."
"You DIDN'T 'butt in'! You're a beautiful dancer, better than Captain Sayre, in some ways, though you don't know so many fancy steps. But you picked up my idea of the apple blossom steps at once!"
"Because that's OUR dance. And you're my property to-night, anyway. Didn't Neptune crown the Spirit of the Sea?"
"Yes, and I haven't yet thanked you for this lovely wreath! It's the most beautiful thing! Where DID you get it?"
"I had it made, to replace the one I stole from you the night of the storm."
"You didn't steal that,—I gave it to you."
"Well, and so I give you this one in return. Will you wear it sometimes?"
"I'll wear it often, it's so lovely. And SO becoming,—isn't it?"
Naughty Patty smiled most provokingly up into the big blue eyes that looked intently at her.
"Becoming?" he said. "Yes, it IS! What isn't becoming to you, you little beauty?"
"There, there, don't flatter me!" and Patty cast down her eyes demurely. "Oh, Jack, is this our dance?" And with a saucy bow, Patty left Big Bill, and strolled away on Jack Pennington's arm.
"You're a regular out and out belle to-night, Patty," he said, frankly. "All the men are crazy over you, and all the girls are envious."
"'Tisn't me," said Patty, meekly. "It's this ridiculous green rig and my unkempt hair."
"Shouldn't wonder," returned Jack, teasingly; "girls always look best in fancy dress."
"So do the boys," Patty retorted. "Isn't Bill Farnsworth stunning in that Neptune toga,—or whatever it's called?"
"Pooh, you'd think he was stunning in anything, wouldn't you?"
"Oh,—I don't know—" and Patty put her fingertip in her mouth, and looked so exaggeratedly shy that Jack burst into laughter.
"You're a rogue, Patty," he declared. "If you don't look out you'll grow up a flirt."
"Am I flirting with you?" and Patty opened her eyes very wide in mock horror at such an idea.
"No,—not exactly. But you may, if you like."
"I DON'T like!" said Patty, decidedly. "We're good chums, Jack, and I want to stay so. No flirt nonsense about us, is there?"
"No," said Jack; "let's dance," and away they whirled in a gay two-step.
When the dancing was over, the "Red Chimneys" party started for home in various motors. Patty thought Bill would ask her to ride with him, but he didn't come near her, and she wondered if he were annoyed or offended in any way.
She confessed to feeling a little tired, and rode quietly beside Aunt Adelaide, leaning her sunny head on that lady's shoulder.
"But it was lovely!" she said, with a sort of purr like a contented kitten. "I'd like to have a Pageant every night!"
"Yes, you would!" exclaimed Roger, who sat in front of her in the big motor. "You'd be dancing in a sanitarium next thing you knew."
"Pooh!" retorted Patty. "I'm not a decrepit old invalid yet, am I, Aunt Adelaide?"
"No, dearie; but you must take care of yourself. I think a cold compress on your forehead to-night would do you good."
"And a hot compress on my chin, and two lukewarm ones on my ears," teased Patty, laughing at the solicitous tones of the older lady. "No, sir-ee! I'll catch a nap or two, and tomorrow I'll be as right as a—as a—what's that thing that's so awfully right?"
"A trivet," said Mona.
"Yes, a trivet. I've no idea what it is, but I'll be one!"
There was a light supper set out in the dining-room at "Red Chimneys," but no one wanted any, so good-nights were said almost immediately and the wearied revellers sought their rooms.
"No kimono parties to-night, girls," said Patty, firmly. "I'm going straight to bed."
"All right," agreed Mona and Daisy, "we'll save our gossip till morning."
But Patty didn't go straight to bed. She flashed on the lights in her rose-coloured boudoir, drew the curtains of the bay window, and then threw herself into a big easy-chair. She was thinking of Mr. William Farnsworth. She wished he hadn't said what he had. It worried her, somehow. And when he said good-night just now, he had a look in his eyes that meant,—well, perhaps it didn't mean anything after all. Perhaps he was only flirting,—as Patty herself was. But was she? She had just asked herself this question, really seriously, when a rose came flying in at the window and fell at her feet. She looked up quickly,—she was SURE she had drawn the curtains. Yes, she had done so, but there was just a little space between them, where they didn't quite join.
Well, it must have been a good marksman who could throw so accurately! Westerners were accounted good marksmen,—it MIGHT be—
And then a second rose followed the first, and others, at intervals, until a good-sized heap lay at Patty's feet.
Laughing in spite of herself, she went to the window, and peeped out between the curtains.
"Why, it's you!" she exclaimed, as if she hadn't known it all the time.
"Yes," and Big Bill smiled at her over the armful of roses he still held. "I've completely stripped the rose garden, but I had to bombard you with something!"
"Are you a bombardier?"
"No, I'm a beggar. I'm begging you to come out here for a few minutes and see the moonlight on the ocean."
"Why, there isn't any moon!"
"That's so! I mean the sun."
"Well, the sun isn't QUITE up yet!"
"That's so! Well, I mean the—the stars,—there, I knew SOMETHING was shining!"
Bill's laugh was so infectious that Patty couldn't help joining it, but she said:
"I can't, Little Billee. It's too late, and I'm too tired, and—"
"But I'm going away to-morrow."
"You are! I didn't know."
"Do you CARE? Oh, Patty, come out for a minute, I want to tell you something."
Still in her green draperies and silver wreath, Patty stepped out on the veranda, saying, "Just for a tiny minute, then."
Bill had discarded his Neptune trappings, and in evening dress, was his handsome self again.
"You were fine as Neptune," said Patty, looking at him critically as he stood against a veranda pillar, "but you're better as a plain man."
"Thank you!" said Bill, ironically.
"Fishing! Well, I DIDN'T mean that you're plain, but,—I won't say what I did mean."
"Oh, dear! Another fond hope shattered! I WISH I knew what you DID mean!"
"Don't be silly, or I'll run back. If you'll promise not to be silly, I'll stay another minute."
"But, you see, I never know when I am silly."
"Almost always! Now let's talk about the Pageant. Didn't Daisy look pretty?"
"Yes. But I fancy blondes myself."
"Now that's ambiguous. I don't know whether you mean because you're one or because I'm one."
"Why! So you ARE a blonde, aren't you? I never noticed it before!"
"Really? How nice! I've always wondered how I'd strike an entire stranger!"
"Why strike him at all?"
"Now you're silly again! But I mean, I'd like to know what an utter stranger would think of me."
"I hate to be called an utter stranger, but I haven't the least objection to saying what I think of you. In fact, I'd like to! May I?"
"Is it nice?" asked Patty, frightened a little at Bill's quiet tones.
"Judge for yourself. I think you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen,—and the most fascinating. I think you have the sweetest nature and disposition imaginable. I think you have just enough perversity to give you the Zip you need."
"What is Zip?"
"Never mind; don't interrupt. I think you are the most adorable fluff of femininity in the world,—and I KNOW I love you, and I want you for all my very own. Patty,—DARLING,—tell me now what you think of ME."
"Oh, Bill, DON'T say such things to me,—PLEASE, don't!" And Patty's overstrung nerves gave way, and she began to cry.
"I won't, dear,—I won't, if it bothers you," and Big Bill's arm went round her in such a comforting way that Patty wept on his broad shoulder.
"Don't,—don't think me a silly," she said, smiling up at him through her tears, "but—I'm so tired, and sleepy,—if you could just wait till morning,—I'd tell you then what I think of you."
"Very well, dear, I'll wait."
"No, you needn't, I'll tell you now," and Patty suddenly drew away from Bill's arm and faced him bravely. "I'm a coward,—that's what I am! And I cried because,—because I can't say what you want me to, and—and I HATE to hurt your feelings,—because I LIKE you so much."
"Patty! do you KNOW what you're talking about?"
"Yes, I do! But I can't seem to say it out plain, without hurting your nice, big, kind heart."
"Let me say it for you, little girl. Is it this? Is it that you like me as a friend, and a comrade—chum, but you don't love me as I love you, and you're afraid it will hurt me to know it?"
"Yes, yes, that's it! How did you know?"
"You told me yourself, unconsciously. Now, listen, my girl. I only love you MORE for being brave and honest about it. And I love you more still for your dear, kind heart that can't bear to hurt anybody. And to prove that love, I'm not going to say any more to you on this subject,—at least, not now. Forget what I have said; let us go back to our good comradeship. I startled you; I spoke too soon, I know. So forget it, my apple blossom, and remember only that Little Billee is your friend, who would do anything in the world for you."
"You're an awfully nice man," said Patty, not coyly, but sincerely, as she laid her hand on his arm a moment.
"Now you HAVE told me what you think of me!" cried Farnsworth, gaily, and taking the little hand he held it lightly clasped in his own. "And I thank you, lady, for those kind words! Now, you can look at the moon just a minute longer, and then you must fly, little bird, to your nest in the tree."
"Yes, I must go. Tell me, Little Billee, where did you learn to dance so well?"
"It's mostly my natural grace! I took a few lessons of a wandering minstrel, out home, but I don't know the technique of it, as you and that ornamental captain do."
"But you could learn easily. Shall I teach you?"
"No,—Apple Blossom, I think not."
"Oh, there won't be time. You said you're leaving to-morrow! Must you go?"
"It doesn't matter whether I must or not. If you look at me like that, I WON'T! There, there, Sea Witch, run away, or—or I'll flirt with you!"
"Yes, it's time I went," said Patty, demurely, gathering up her draperies. "But, Billee, how can I thank you for the dear, sweet lovely wreath?"
"Well, there are several ways in which you COULD thank me,—though I'm not sure you WOULD. Suppose we just consider me thanked?"
"That doesn't seem much. Shall I write you a note?"
"That doesn't seem VERY much. Why don't you give me a gift in return?"
"I will! What do you want? A penknife?"
"Mercy, no! I'll have to think it over. Wait! I have it! Have your picture taken—with the wreath on, and give me that."
"All right, I will. Or perhaps Mr. Cromer would sketch me in this whole rig."
"PERHAPS he WOULD!" and Farnsworth caught his breath, as he looked at the vision of loveliness before him. "But we'll see about that later. Skip to bed now, Apple Blossom, and don't appear below decks before noon to-morrow."
"No, I won't. I'm awful tired. Good-night, Little Billee."
"Good-night, Apple Blossom Girl," and Farnsworth held aside the curtain as Patty stepped through the window.
A shower of flowers flew after her, for Bill had picked up his remaining posies, and Patty laughed softly, as the curtain fell and she stood in her room, surrounded by a scattered heap of roses.
"Just like a theatrical lady," she said, smiling and bowing to an imaginary audience, for Patty loved to "make-believe."
And then she took off her silver wreath and put it carefully away.
"Little Billee is SUCH a nice boy," she said, reflectively, as she closed the box.
A COQUETTISH COOK
"Hello, Pattypet," said Mona, appearing at Patty's bedside next morning. "How's your chocolate? Does it suit you?"
"Delicious," said Patty, who was luxuriously nestling among her pillows while she ate her breakfast.
"Well, make the most of it, for you'll never get anything more fit to eat or drink in this happy home."
"What DO you mean?"
"Listen to my tale of woe. The chef and his wife have both left."
"Francois? And Marie! Why, whatever for?"
"Your English is a bit damaged, but I'll tell you. You see, Aunt Adelaide flew into one of her biggest tantrums, because her shirred egg was shirred too full, or her waffles didn't waff,—or something,—and she sent for Francois and gave him such a large piece of her mind that he picked up his Marie and walked off."
"Have they really GONE?"
"They really have. I've telephoned to the Intelligence Place, and I can't get a first-class cook down here at all. I shall have to send to the city for one, but, meantime—what to do! What to do!"
"H'm,—and you've guests for luncheon!"
"Yes, the whole Sayre tribe. The captain just CAN'T keep away from YOU! Patty, do you know you're a real belle? Everybody was crazy about you last night."
"Fiddlesticks! Just because I had on a green frock and let my hair hang down."
"Your hair is WONDERFUL. But I didn't come up here to tell you of your own attractions! I want your able advice on how to have a luncheon party without a cook."
"Oh, pooh! that's TOO easy! Give me a helper of some sort, and I'll cook your old luncheon. And I'll promise you it will be just grand!"
"Cook! You? I won't let you. What do you take me for? No, you come with me, and we'll go somewhere where cooks grow and BUY one."
"There won't be time, Mona. What time is luncheon to be?"
"Half-past one; and it's about ten now."
"Oceans of time, then; I tell you, I'll see to the kitchen for luncheon. But of course, you must have a cook, for permanent use."
"Well, rather. But I'll get one from New York by to-morrow morning. And you know Adele Kenerley's friends are coming to dinner to-night. What about that?"
"Leave all to me. I will arrange. But I want somebody to help me. How about Daisy?"
"Daisy's no good at that sort of thing. And I don't like to ask Adele. Say, Patty, let Bill help you; he's a fine cook, I've been on camp picnics with him, and I know. And maybe he wouldn't be GLAD to help you in anything! Ah, there, Patty, you're blushing! I feared as much! Oh, Patty, DO you like him?"
"'Course I like him. He's a jolly chap, and we're good chums."
"But is that all? Patty, tell me; I won't tell."
"There's nothing to tell, Mona. I like Little Billee a whole lot, but I'm not in love with him, if that's what you mean."
"Yes, that's what I mean. I hoped you were."
"Well, I'm not. And I'm not going to be in love with anybody for years and years. I'm fancy-free, and I mean to stay so. So don't try to tease me, for you won't get any fun out of it."
"That's so; you're too straightforward to be teased successfully. Patty, you've been a real lesson to me this summer. I've learned a lot from you. I don't mean to gush, but I DO want to tell you how I appreciate and cherish all the kindness you've shown me."
"Dear old Mona, I'm glad if I've said or done anything to make you feel like that! You're a trump, girl, and I'm glad to have you for a friend. Now, vanish, my lady, and as soon as I can scrabble into a costume, I'll meet you below stairs, and solve all your kitchen problems for you."
"But, Patty, I CAN'T let you go into the kitchen!"
"You can't keep me out, you mean! I'm delighted to have the chance. Aprons are terribly becoming to me."
"Do you want one of the parlourmaid's aprons?"
"I do not! I want a big, all-enveloping cook's apron."
"Well, I suppose you don't want a man's. I'll find you one of Marie's."
"I don't care whose it is, if it's big. Skip, now!"
Mona vanished, and Patty jumped out of bed, and dressed for her new work. She chose a pink-sprigged dimity, simply made, with short sleeves and collarless neck. A dainty breakfast cap surmounted her coil of curls, donned, it must be confessed, because of its extreme becomingness. Mona provided a large, plain white apron, and going to the kitchen, Patty considered the situation.
The viands for the luncheon had arrived, but were not in the least prepared for use. A large basket showed a quantity of live crabs, which lay quietly enough, but a twitching claw here and there betrayed their activity.
"Mercy!" cried Mona, "let's throw these away! You can't do anything with these creatures!"
"Nonsense," said Patty, "I'm versed in the ways of crabs. I'll attend to them. What else, Mona?"
"Oh, here are some queer looking things from the butcher's. I don't know what they are. Can they be brains?"
"No, they're sweetbreads, and fine ones, too. And here is the romaine for the salad, and lovely squabs to roast. Oh, Mona, I'm just in my element! I LOVE to do these things; you know I'm a born cook. But I must have a helper."
"I know; Marie always helped Francois. They were a splendid pair. It's a pity Aunt Adelaide had to stir them up so,—and all over nothing."
"Well, don't cry over spilt eggs. I'll do up this luncheon, and I'll fix it so I can slip up and dress, and appear at the table as if nothing had happened. The waitress and the butler can manage the serving process?"
"Oh, yes. I HATE to have you do it, Patty, but I don't know what else to do. Here, I'll help you."
Patty had already filled a huge kettle with boiling water, and was about to put the crabs in it.
"All right, Mona; catch that side of the basket, and slide them in, all together. It seems awful to scald them, but the sooner the quicker. Now,—in they go!"
But in they DIDN'T go! One frisky crab shot out a long claw and nearly grabbed Mona's finger, which so scared her that she dropped her side of the flat basket, and the crabs all slid out on the floor instead of into the kettle.
With suddenly aroused agility they scuttled in every direction, some waggling to cover under tables and chairs, and some dancing about in the middle of the floor.
Hearing Mona's shrieks and Patty's laughter, Daisy came running down. But the sight was too horrifying for her, and she turned and sped back upstairs. Poor Daisy was not so much to be blamed, for having lived all her life in Chicago, she had never chanced to see live crabs before, and the strange creatures were a bit startling.
She flew out on the veranda and caught Big Bill by one sleeve, and Roger by another.
"Come! Come!" she cried. "Patty and Mona are nearly killed! Oh, hurry! You'll be too late!"
"Where, where?" cried Roger, while Farnsworth turned white with the sudden shock of Daisy's words. He thought some dreadful accident had happened, and fear for Patty's welfare nearly paralysed him.
"This way! That way!" screamed Daisy, darting toward the kitchen stairway, and then flying back again.
Down the stairs raced the two men, and into the kitchen. There they found Patty standing on a side table, armed with a long poker, while Mona danced about on the large table, brandishing a broom in one hand and a mop in the other. Patty was in paroxysms of laughter at Mona's antics, but Mona herself was in terror of her life, and yelled like a wild Indian.
"Get down! Go 'way!" she cried, as an adventurous crab tried, most ineffectually, to climb the table leg.
Roger sprang on to the table beside Mona. "There, there," he said, "you rest a while, and I'll holler for you. Go 'way! Get down! Go 'way, you!"
His imitation of Mona's frightened voice was so funny Patty began to laugh afresh, and Farnsworth joined her.
"Get up here on my table, Little Billee," cried Patty. "You'll be captured and swallowed alive by these monsters!"
Big Bill sat on the corner of Patty's table and looked at her.
"You make a charming little housewife," he said, glancing at the cap and apron.
"Help me, won't you?" Patty returned, blushing a little, but ignoring his words. "I'm going to cook the luncheon, and first of all we must boil these crabs. Can't you corral them and invite them into that kettle of water? We had them started in the right direction, but somehow they got away."
"Right-o!" agreed Bill, and placing the toe of his big shoe gently on a passing crab, he picked it up by the hinge of its left hind leg, and deftly dropped it in the boiling water.
"That's just the right way!" said Patty, nodding approval. "I can pick them up that way, too, but there are so many sprinkled around this floor, I'm afraid they'll pick me up first."
"Yes, they might, Apple Blossom. You sit tight, till I round them all up. Lend a hand, Farrington."
So Roger poked out the unwilling creatures from their lairs, and Bill assisted them to their destination, while the two girls looked on.
"Good work!" cried Patty as the last shelly specimen disappeared beneath the bubbles. "Now, they must boil for twenty minutes. They don't mind it NOW."
The girls came down from their tables, and explained the situation.
"Don't worry, Mona," said Farnsworth, in his kind way. "Patty and I will cook luncheon, and this afternoon I'll go out and get you a cook if I have to kidnap one."
"All right, Bill," said Mona, laughing. "Come on, Roger, let's leave these two. You know too many cooks spoil the broth!"
"So they do!" called Bill, gaily, as Mona, after this parting shaft, fled upstairs. "Do I understand, little Apple Blossom," he observed, gently, "that you're really going to cook this elaborate luncheon all yourself?"
"Yes, sir," said Patty, looking very meek and demure.
"CAN you do it?"
"Yes, sir." Patty dropped her eyes, and drew her toe along a crack in the floor, like a bashful child.
"You little rascal! I believe you can! Well, then, you can be chef and I'll be assistant. I WAS going to arrange it the other way."
"Oh, no, sir! I'll give the orders." And Patty looked as wise and dignified as a small bluebird on a twig.
"You bet you will, my lady! Now, first and foremost, shall I pare the potatoes?"
"Oh, Billee, there must be a scullery maid or something for that!"
"Don't see any, and don't want any! I'm not afraid of staining my lily-white fingers. You'd better put those sweetbreads in cold water to blanch them, and cut up some bread to dry out a little for the squab stuffing."
"For goodness gracious sake! Do you know it all?" exclaimed Patty, looking at him in amazement.
"Yes, I know everything in all the world. I'm a terrible knower!"
"You are so! How did you learn it all?"
"Born so. Are you going to have that sort of a grape fruit muddle in glasses?"
"Yes; with candied cherries in it. Don't you love it?"
"Yes, if you do. What thou lovest, I will love, and thy discards shall be mine also."
"Amiable boy! Now, don't talk to me, I have to measure these things very carefully."
"Oh, I say! Let me make the salad dressing. I'm a hummer at it, and I don't measure a thing."
Patty looked at him coldly.
"If you turn out to be a BETTER cook than I am," she said, "I'll never speak to you again!"
"Oh, I'm not! I'm a FEARFUL cook! I spoil everything I touch! DON'T ask me to make that dressing! DON'T!"
Patty couldn't help laughing at his foolishness, and the work went merrily on.
But picking out the crabs was a tedious task. It was easy enough, and Patty was deft and dainty, but it took a long time, and the sharp shells cut her fingers now and then.
"Let me do it, dear," said Farnsworth, quietly, and he took from her the fork she was using.
"Oh, thank you!" she said, gratefully. "You ARE a help, Little Billee."
"I'm always ready to help YOU, Patty girl; call on me any time, anywhere; if ever you want me,—I'm right there."
"I think somebody else might have helped us with these crabs, anyway."
"They would, if we asked them. I like it better this way. Alone with thee,—just you and me,—the crabs to free,—is bliss for we!"
"Speak for yourself, John! I don't see any bliss in picking out crabs. I've cut and scratched every single solitary finger I possess!"
"Poor little girl! But, you see, I offer you my hand,—both hands, in fact,—there's ten extra fingers at your disposal, if you want them. And all willing and eager to work for you."
"Mr. Farnsworth, how do you suppose I can make croquettes if you talk to me like that? One tablespoonful of flour,—two of butter, three eggs—"
"Pooh, can't you read a recipe and be proposed to at the same time?"
"Yes, I CAN," Patty flashed back, "but,—I pay attention only to the recipe!"
"'Twas ever thus," Bill sighed.
"What! EVERY time you've proposed?" said Patty, roguishly.
"No, because I've never proposed before. Don't you think I do it well for a beginner?"
"Not very! You little scamp, what do you know about it? Have you had a wide experience in proposals?"